If you browse the top gaming channels on YouTube, one four-letter word appears more than any other: FaZe.

Stylized with a capital Z, that tag can be found all over the internet. It’s in the names of popular channels with billions of views, in headlines announcing the winners of major e-sports tournaments, and all over Twitch, where it plays an integral role in record-breaking broadcasts. Even if you’re not into gaming, you might have see FaZe around. After all, some people bearing that tag have found themselves in national news.

But what is FaZe?

Non-gamers may not be aware, but the enterprise that tag refers to is the FaZe Clan, which is one of the internet’s most successful video networks. Despite being partnered with fewer than 60 creators, FaZe reaches more than 116 million followers across all social platforms and received more than 245 million YouTube views in March 2018 alone.

Even those who are in the know about FaZe Clan may not be aware of the network’s growth, its future plans, and the astonishing influence it is exerting on fields like gaming, sports, music, and vlogging. What started a collective of skilled Call of Duty marksmen has evolved into a multi-tiered company that plans to dominate the e-sports scene, redefine the public perception of gamers, live like rockstars, and captivate millions, if not billions of online video viewers along the way.

“A lot of people can’t do it, and that’s what I like about it”

The CEO of FaZe Clan is Tommy Oliveira, who is known online as FaZe Temperrr. There are some key differences between Oliveira and most of his fellow online video network execs. For one, the Brazil native is just 24 years old; He’s been a part of FaZe since he was sixteen. He’s also a creator himself. His tenure at FaZe began not because he was interested in business, but because he was a great shot with a virtual sniper rifle.

His rise to digital fame came through Call of Duty, the popular video game franchise that spans more than a dozen first-person shooter (FPS) titles. Before Minecraft and Fortnite came along, Call of Duty was arguably the most popular gaming franchise on the internet, and within that community, the early members of FaZe Clan carved out a niche of their own: Trickshots.

FaZe’s first members were not the best Call of Duty players in the world, but they knew how to down their opponents with panache, and that flair got viewers to tune in. Their trickshot videos, in which they killed enemies while performing stunts like spins and jumps, evoked the style of old-school skateboarding videos.

Oliveira, once an avid skater himself, told Tubefilter that performing a trickshot is “like skateboarding in a video game.”

Just as Tony Hawk is famous for his 900, Oliveira developed a signature trick of his own. In September 2010, he performed the first “Temperrr Shot” in Call of Duty, which he executed by jumping in the air, spinning around, and shooting an enemy before hitting the ground. To make the shot more difficult, Oliveira completed the kill without looking through the scope of his sniper rifle — a feat that is known as a “no-scope.”

“A lot of people can’t do it,” Oliveira said in a 2011 video explaining the technique behind the Temperrr Shot, “and that’s what I like about it.”

Though Oliveira noted that “you never do a 360” in a Temperrr Shot (it can be executed with a smaller spin, such as a 180-degree turn), his signature move resembles a “360 no-scope,” which became such a legendary Call of Duty trickshot that it emerged as a meme catchphrase.

So-called “montage parodies” poked fun at the trickshot community by imagining 360 no-scopes in innocuous games like Galaga and tennis. A montage parody featuring the classic children’s toy Bop-It added a joke about the people who helped make trickshots famous: “FaZe got nothing on this s**t.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the YouTube community, Freddie Wong joked that trickshots have the power to woo women. In one video, a potential partner leaves him after she sees someone else perform a stunt that resembles the Temperrr Shot. “I’m sorry Freddie,” she says, “360 no-scope.”

The genesis of the trickshot can’t be attributed to FaZe alone, but the Clan certainly played a huge role in raising the cultural cachet of Call of Duty stunts. “When [people] think of 360 no-scope, they think of FaZe,” Oliveira told Tubefilter.

“E-sports and entertainment.”

Owing the widespread popularity of its trickshots, FaZe soared; the Clan’s official YouTube channel would reach one million subscribers two years after its 2010 launch. Oliveira’s fortunes rose with those of his network. The namesake of the Temperrr Shot began editing FaZe videos while also recruiting new members. Notable members Nordan “FaZe Rain” Shat and FaZe Apex joined the Clan in 2011; these days, they’re both approaching the one billion view mark on YouTube.

As Oliveira and his colleagues hunted for background music to use in their videos, they also made connections in the music world. They became friendly with artists like Logic and Macklemore in 2011, years before those performers ascended to worldwide stardom.

A pivotal FaZe development came in 2012, when the Clan decided to get into e-sports. Though its trickshot masters possessed undeniable Call of Duty skills, they weren’t on the level of the top video game players who competed at major tournaments around the world. FaZe began to vie for those trophies when it recruited a team of Call of Duty players,who began to compete under the FaZe name at top-level events. At that point, the Clan split into two branches, which Oliveira calls “e-sports and entertainment.”

To a certain degree, the two sides of FaZe exist autonomously of one another. The e-sports operation, emboldened by its successes at the highest level, now includes teams in Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six Siege, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegroundsand Fortnite. On the other side of the brand, FaZe has established several houses where entertainers like Oliveira can live together, collaborate, and grow their channels. There are currently three active FaZe houses, one each in Los Angeles, Calabasas, and Austin.

The first FaZe house, established in New York (where it’s no longer active) “changed everything for us,” Oliveira said. “Everyone made videos each day, every single day. We were creating content all together, helping everyone out. One of the best ways you can grow your brand online is to collaborate with people so you can share your ideas and share your viewers.”

Individual channels in the FaZe network went wild, pulling in millions of subscribers. Today, the seven creators who lived together in the first FaZe house all have at least 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube.

“The buzz around e-sports is disproportionately large compared to the money.”

As the FaZe Clan grew, its members looked to take a big step toward legitimizing their business.

“We were kids running this organization,” Oliveira told Tubefilter. “We were a massive organization with zero organization.” Though FaZe videos had made some revenue through a partnership with Machinima, there was clearly an opportunity to establish a more substantial brand.

Enter Hubrick, a social media platform run by Norwegian entrepreneur Sebastian Guerts. In 2015, Guerts wanted to get involved in the gaming space, and was advised to reach out to two particular personalities. One was Chris Puckett, a notable e-sports commentator. The other was FaZe Temperrr. Guerts flew Oliveira out to Norway and the two soon formed a close bond. “He’s the hungriest person I’ve ever met,” Oliveira told Tubefilter. “He works harder than anyone. To this day he’s like my big brother.”

Hubrick helped FaZe organize its network and gave it the resources it needed to both recruit top e-sports players and assist the growth of its vlog channels. Among other investments, Guerts and his partners provided the capital FaZe needed to build the most expensive Counter-Strike team in the world, which it put together by acquiring the lineup of e-sports collective G2. After that, it didn’t take long for FaZe to raise its first Counter-Strike trophy.

To oversee the operation of the newly-structured FaZe business, Hubrick brought in Lee Trink, the former EVP and GM of Virgin Records America. Trink, who has worked with major music stars like Katy Perry, Kid Rock, and 30 Seconds to Mars, sees major potential among FaZe’s community of young gaming stars.

“We’ve only just scratched the surface,” Trink told Tubefilter. “The buzz around e-sports is disproportionately large compared to the money. I think we’re in the first inning of e-sports’ rise as an economic powerhouse in sports.”

With Trink’s help, FaZe put together several championship level e-sports time while also growing the entertainment side of its business. One hub Trink values is the official FaZe Clan YouTube channel, where new videos now arrive multiple times each week.

“We’re more focused than ever on building the faze clan brand,” Trink said, noting that his team has devoted “considerable resources to really make that a hub for our fans.”

Trink also noted that FaZe fans can expect “different types of content” to join the network’s existing formats going forward. He noted the company is particularly interested in releasing some “longer form” work.

“They are the rock stars of gaming.”

FaZe’s growth isn’t just about the number of creators in its network or the number of trophies its e-sports teams win. The network is also helping to redefine how gamers are perceived. The network’s stable of gamers is not filled with the pasty, socially-awkward nerds who have traditionally been stereotyped as the gaming industry’s core audience. Instead, the Clan derives its personality from the same fields Oliveira used as inspiration for his early trickshot videos: Sports and music.

Rather than fulfilling the gamer stereotype, FaZe members often live like rap stars, driving fancy cars and living in extravagant houses. Last year, FaZe Rain took to YouTube to show off his new sports car: A McLaren 570s, which retails for approximately $188,600.

Other FaZe creators train like superstar athletes. Doug “FaZe Censor” Martin‘s YouTube channel is a mixed bag: In some videos, he plays games with digital stars. In others, he works out with them.

But even Martin can’t claim to be the best athlete in FaZe Clan. That title surely belongs to Juju Smith-Schuster, who plays games like Fortnite on Twitch and recently moved into FaZe’s Hollywood house. When he’s not streaming or vlogging, however, Smith-Schuster has an illustrious day job: He’s a talented young wide receiver for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

“We play sports, we like going out, having fun, hanging out with our friends, ” Oliveira said. “We’re like a modern day Wu-Tang Clan with gaming.”

Trink also believes that FaZe defies “the cliche about gaming” and sees them as “the most powerful brand in gaming outside of actual [game developers].”

“There are barriers we look to break down in the traditional entertainment business,” Trink told Tubefilter. “What we’re doing deserves to sit along what the NBA does. That is a process, and it takes stars to do that. Having star power enables you to push those ideas forward that’s what FaZe clan offers. They are the rock stars of gaming. They are going to be the agents of change in gaming.”

“Artists are complicated”

Some rock star behavior, however, moves into more questionable territory. The current members of FaZe have mostly kept controversy out of their personal lives, but the same cannot be said for some of the company the network’s creators keep. Consider Ricky Banks, who still uses the FaZe tag in the names of his channels even though he stepped away from the Clan’s main channel in 2016. Banks was an early member of FaZe, owns a stake in the brand, and lived with Oliveira and others in the first FaZe house in New York City.

Now, Banks is affiliated with the Clout Gang, one of the most controversial cliques in the online video world. Last year, Banks and his girlfriend Alissa Violet (who is also a member of Clout Gang and used to date social media lightning rod Jake Paul) launched a bitter feud against a Cleveland pub called Barley House, alleging that the establishment’s staff roughed up Violet during a bar fight. While the events of the night are disputed, security footage shows Banks throwing several punches during one of the scuffles.

Another member of the Clout Gang, RiceGum, has cooked up plenty of beef of his own, agitating creators across the internet and beyond. Several of his indiscretions, including his controversial remarks directed at a rape victim, were laid out in an episode of the web series Content Cop.

FaZe shouldn’t stand trial for the Clout Gang’s indiscretions, but the two entities are linked.

Trink, for example, has a leadership role in both groups, which are both part of the Hubrick family. Given his experience in the music industry, he’s certainly no stranger to this sort of bad boy behavior. When I asked him whether he felt the headlines generated by creators like Banks would negatively impact the Clout and FaZe brands, he compared Banks to some of his previous clients.

“Artists are complicated, artists get into hot water,” Trink said. “Some people are so much trouble that it consumes them, but that’s not who these people are. Ricky is one of the most creative people I’ve ever worked with. He’s a magnet for talent, a magnet for ideas. The guy gets into trouble sometimes. I don’t want him to be in trouble, but I will work with him and it’s part of the price you pay. You can’t be scared of it. You gotta take it seriously.”

“I am ready to join FaZe.”

Ultimately, in spite of that scrappiness, FaZe’s blend of gaming and hip-hop culture matches up well with the current zeitgeist of the gaming industry.

No event was more emblematic of that combination’s place in modern entertainment than the record-setting Twitch stream that featured rapper DrakeFortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, and one of FaZe’s own: JuJu. The stream was a media sensation that catapulted its participants into the spotlight and showed that gamers, in 2018, are the kind of people who cool trendsetters want to associate with.

It was also a viewership win, receiving 635,000 concurrent viewers at its peak. That was the largest-ever audience for a non-tournament Twitch stream. One of the only Twitch streams bigger than it took place during ELeague Boston a Counter-Strike event with a $1 million purse that took place in January 2018. During its peak, that broadcast topped out at a record-setting 1.1 million concurrent viewers. FaZe Clan settled for second place.

FaZe’s presence in record-setting Twitch streams, whether they feature e-sports or casual play, is emblematic of the Clan’s influence in 2018.

No longer just a home for high-quality trickshots, the network is as aspirational goal for many young gamers. In my conversation with Oliveira, he shared an anecdote about one of the Clan’s newest members, Fortnite player FaZe Cizzorz.

When Cizzorz was just starting out on YouTube, he had two goals, Oliveira said: Get a million subscribers on YouTube, and join FaZe Clan. Nearly seven years after he posted his first video, he has accomplished both of those goals.

And yet, even in spite of the networks lofty goals, even as its creators gather more subscribers and its e-sports teams win more tournaments, in some circles, FaZe is still most associated with the sub-genre that first made it famous.

When the aforementioned Fortnite streamer Ninja landed a miraculous shot during one of his play sessions, he posted the clip on Twitter. In his caption, the world’s most-successful Twitch streamer referenced the world’s most-successful gaming clan. “I AM READY!” he quipped, “I AM READY TO JOIN FAZE!”

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